Mummified Lung
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Of the entire skeleton of Arnegund, only one organ has been preserved for eternity, intriguing scientists for decades.

Archaeologist Michel Fleury came across, in 1959, a well-preserved lung inside a stone sarcophagus in the Basilica of St Denis, in Paris, France. There, the most important French kings of the past were buried over the centuries.

A skeleton, a lock of hair, jewelry, and tissue and leather fragments were close to the organ, which intrigued the researcher and prompted a decades-long study to be initiated.

It was only in 2016 that scientists reached a satisfactory conclusion about what helped to preserve the lung and whether it had been naturally mummified over time, or whether it had been deliberately embalmed.

French Queen

After the discovery, archaeologists were able to identify the lung, and consequently the skeleton, as being Queen Merovingia Arnegund, one of the six wives of King Clotaire I, who lived between the years 511 and 561, and mother of King Chilpéric I.

Identification was made using the gold ring found with the remains, which had the inscription “Arnegundis” around a central monogram “Regine”, as reported by the Live Science portal.

The noblewoman belonged to Merovingian royalty, who established the most powerful post-Roman kingdom in Western Europe between the 5th and 8th centuries. The queen’s skeleton is one of the few leftover from this period and is considered extremely important.

According to the investigations carried out by the researchers, Arnegunde was 1.54m tall and died at around 61 years of age from unknown causes.

Mummified lung

An international team of scientists was responsible for analyzing the remains, led by Raffaella Bianucci, a bioanthropologist at the Forensic Medicine Section of the University of Turin, Italy.

According to the specialist, “from a macroscopic point of view, the lung appears to be well preserved, while the body is completely skeletonized”.

She pointed out, however, that the copper belt that the queen’s skeleton wore probably played an important role in the organ’s conservation, which can be seen impressively to this day.

Copper belt worn by the queen / Credit: Divulgation/Réunion des Musés Nationaux et Musée d’Archéologie Nationale


Through scanning electron microscopy in lung biopsies, the group noticed that there was a large concentration of copper ions on the surface of the lung tissue of the investigated organ. There was also the presence of copper oxide.

Other biochemical analyzes carried out by the researchers also revealed that the material analyzed had benzoic acid and related compounds in the lung, albeit at lower levels.

These substances are common in the plant kingdom and similar profiles have already been reported in the balms of Egyptian mummified bodies,” stated Bianucci.

She continues: “Since Arnegund wore a copper alloy belt around his waist, we speculate that the copper oxide in the lungs is due to wear on the belt.”

“The preserving properties of copper, combined with the embalming treatment of spices, may have allowed for the preservation of the lungs,” she adds.

For the team, the main possibility is that the queen was subjected to an oral injection of a fluid made from spices or aromatic plants, as there are historical reports that such procedures were used in France during the 6th century for artificial mummification. of royalty.

“During the study of this mummy, we found that the body did not undergo removal of organs and brain. Instead, it looks like an embalming solution was injected through the mouth,” explained Albert Zink, head of the EURAC Institute for Mummies, who participated in the study. Therefore, “the fluid gathered in the lung, which is the only well-preserved organ”.

The method would have been learned from the Romans, who, in turn, would have adopted the procedure of the Egyptians. Still, Bianucci points out that “clearly, Merovingian mummification was much less sophisticated.”

“It was based essentially on the use of strips of linen soaked in oil and resin, used with spices and aromatic plants such as thyme, nettle, myrrh and aloe,” stated Bianucci.

“Queen Arnegund is a particularly complex case”, concluded the researcher. “Since she was exhumed in 1959, her remains have suffered several displacements, disappearing in the 1960s to finally resurface in 2003.”

Source: Live Science

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